Church Leaders Say Internet Biggest Gift, Challenge in Communications

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
Downloaded March 10, 2004

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church must counter the flood of lies and immorality available on the Internet with Web sites full of truth, beauty and righteousness, said a cardinal from the Dominican Republic.

"It is not enough to complain about the negative (Web) pages that multiply daily; we must accept the challenge of creating pages with a different content that certainly will reach millions of people of good will," said Cardinal Nicolas Lopez Rodriguez of Santo Domingo.

The cardinal was one of several cardinals and bishops at the March 8-12 meeting of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to identify the Internet as the biggest blessing and the biggest challenge for the Catholic Church's communications efforts in the past 40 years.

Council members were asked to discuss changes in the media in the 40 years since the publication of the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Instruments of Social Communication.

Cardinal Lopez told the council, "Men and women of faith who believe in a better future for humanity and want to promote spiritual and moral health have a serious responsibility" to ensure that "goodness, morality and the great ideals of justice, peace and solidarity circulate on these electronic paths."

The cardinal also said it was his hope that access to computer technology would spread beyond the developed world and that users would create "virtual classrooms, offering education to the large part of humanity that does not have it."

Retired Brazilian Cardinal Eugenio de Araujo Sales of Rio de Janeiro said the church would be wrong not to take advantage of computer and Internet technology.

"Computer systems are making the universe smaller, producing rapid and perfect contacts, reducing distances," he said.

Through the Internet and e-mail, a real dialogue between people of different faiths and cultures is possible, the cardinal said.

Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth, England, told the council that e-mail "has been a vital piece of new technology for my work, not only as a bishop, but as a member of the human family."

The bishop said there are obvious concerns connected with the technology, including difficulty in ensuring e-mail communications are confidential.

E-mail, he said, "also accelerates, in sometimes unacceptable ways, the process of decision making, building into itself its own imperative for instant -- and sometimes ill-considered -- responses."

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa offered some "ethical reflections" on the Internet and, particularly, on how global access to the same information may "generate a uniformity of consciousness" and definitively exclude from the global community those who are too poor to buy a computer.

"The neoliberal logic says the solution will come from a free market, which can resolve by itself problems of inequality, including access to new technology," he said.

The cardinal said the fact that the globalized economy is creating greater economic and social differences in the world should be enough to make people doubt the market's ability to bring computers to every home.

In addition, he said, the massive amounts of entertainment and information people are taking in each day might not make them better informed about the world, but might "anesthetize our ability for discernment and to have any reaction."

Like the others at the meeting, Cardinal Rodriguez said the church's response cannot be simply to condemn.

"We must generate new educational, pastoral and spiritual strategies, which will require much creativity and effort," he said.

In the midst of a bombardment of images and information by the media, Cardinal Rodriguez said, the church needs to ensure people have "space to think, oases of peace."

Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco, director of communications for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the council that in his experience the most significant event in communications in the last 40 years was the media coverage of the U.S. clerical sex abuse scandal.

"To agree that the story was real and that the media made a contribution by reporting it does not mean that, overall, the coverage did not also produce a severely distorted view of the bishops and their efforts" to address the problems over the past 10 years, he said.

Msgr. Maniscalco said the saturation coverage of the Catholic Church and the sex abuse crisis in 2002 and 2003 gave people the impression that widespread abuse was ongoing, while in reality measures taken by the bishops in the 1990s to deal with the problem resulted in the number of cases dropping "to a trickle" by the end of the decade.

He told council members that the U.S. experience should teach the church that it "must transact its business with the utmost transparency."

"The media not only reveal real scandals, but they can also render suspicious even that which, while it may not be scandalous, can be made to appear so because it is concealed from public view," he said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.